Crossing the Road When the Lights Go Green

It is difficult to erase that lonely feeling. We walk around the city and it’s almost like we don’t exist. If someone looks down from the thirtieth floor at the office building we are currently under, we probably look like a dot in a river of dots. It’s weird how the city is filled with people and yet, the people who walk past us are just passing by. We sit in a cafe and look at the people around us, but then we forget their faces the minute they turn their faces and walk toward the counter to get their coffee. There is nothing connecting us and them. It’s just so peculiar that we can’t help but think about it. And how it makes us feel even lonelier.

We take out our iPhone and scroll through the contacts list. We want to talk to someone. There are people we know from college, from our workplace, and from bars. Even childhood friends are on the list. There is that one guy who keeps on interrupting other people by talking over them in a loud, obnoxious voice and he is quite a nuisance to hang out with. Someone else is a workaholic and she never picks up the phone unless it’s related to her job. And we don’t want to call our parents because they will nag us about how we are all unmarried.

Most of them are what we nowadays call Facebook friends. People we know and have hung out at some point in our adolescence. But we don’t have any relationships beyond acquaintances.

But what about that one dude we keep talking to who loves Madden for some reason? We tell him there are better games than the same football game rehashed forever, but he is too carefree to bother. He just smiles at us. We believe he is superficial, a consumer without any mind. And yet, we call him.

Why do we call him when he is more or less the purest definition of the word, acquaintance? We recall that we have met him through a friend of a friend in some BBQ and there, we exchange phone numbers. He is the gregarious type and likes to invite everyone. There is no point to talking to him since we share zero interests. So why call? We aren’t sure. The phone ring beeps. And he picks up the phone and say, “Hey bud.”

And we let out a voice that sounds something like a croak: “Wanna hang out?”

Those three words we say tell us something: We crave for attention. We call, we SMS, we MMS, we tweet, we Facebook, we Skype, we IRC, we blog. We use our fingers to type on the keyboard, we click on the mouse, and then we wait. We wait for someone to retweet or like our posts. We wait for someone to say something to us. Anything. Usually, no one responds. So we write sarcastic, critical posts about politics, anime, and other stuff. We just hope somebody notices us. Anybody, really.

So are these acts, in reality, cries of despair? Are we just deluding ourselves that someone is there to hear us? If someone screams in the internet, does he or she make a sound?

All we know is that we are calling this dude who only plays Madden because we are craving for attention. We are craving for the words, “Sure, let’s hang out.” Those four words tell us that we are here and we exist.

And he does say it and we smile. Even though it’s unnecessary to hang out with a loser like him. Actually, it may be necessary for us to be socially healthy to talk to acquaintances like him because true friendship is exceedingly rare these days.

So have we developed into a society of acquaintances? Maybe. After all, we are talking to the buddy who plays Madden right now. We don’t even know football and think it shouldn’t be called football since the ball isn’t allowed to touch the feet most of the time. It is just rugby except we can throw forward as far as we are concerned. We hear him talk about Football Star X nonetheless and nod and shrug, even though we are on the phone. Acquaintances only nod and shrug; that’s what they are programmed to do. That is why we despair. Of loneliness. Of that debility to express our feelings. Of solipsism. We don’t have anyone to talk to, not especially this moron who keeps telling you all the boring statistics.

And sure, there’s that one time — actually, countless times where we start venting about the world. And we pour our feelings to him. That poor dude. We know it’s wrong, but we tell him we’re an emotional wreck. All he wanted to do was play Madden with us, not play Sigmund Freud. But he listens. And we are tempted to pour more and more. Sometimes, we realize we are hurting him. We are afraid of the day he will say to us, “Get the fuck out of my face.” We don’t deserve a person like him. So we back off and run away.

But there is something irritating about him today. Just the way he is so happy right now when he talks about football. Like it’s the only thing in his mind. It just pisses us off. He seemed so happy talking about it that it makes us envious. The zero common interest is showing here through a lot and he isn’t shutting his mouth up about fucking football at all. So we cry out to the phone, “No one gives a shit about that. I’m a complete emotional wreck and you talk to me about this? Jesus fucking christ, I just want someone to talk to, not a nerd lecture”, and hang up. The people in the cafe stare at us. We realize we have made a scene. We stand up and leave without saying a word.

We are back in the city where no one speaks to each other. We begin to wonder: This world is noisy. Maybe it won’t be too bad if we can have our own world. A world where we can do whatever we want. All those people who neglect us or get hurt from our actions — they’ll disappear from our sight.

It feels liberating to finally realize that we are alone in our own worlds. No one exists except us. And us alone. We go back to our apartments, cook a nice meal, read books, and then go to sleep. No one to talk to. No one is expecting us to do anything. And we don’t have to listen to anybody talk. Just ourselves and sometimes the postman who sends us the electric bills.

It’s heaven until we realize we are choking. Choking on what? Loneliness. We wake up from our beds sweating at the eve of midnight. We start mouthing words. But no one is there to hear. It is like we don’t exist. In our own apartments.

We can’t sleep. We hear the dogs howl and the air-conditioning hum. We wake up and read some books. Books help us forget that we are lonely in the world by creating its own world of characters. We interact with the characters and see them rise and fall. Books make us forget we are lonely.

But even the books don’t help us. They are supposed to profess the depths of our human condition, but we just find these books as empty as self-help books. Maybe it’s because we have chosen The Great Gatsby to read and that is probably a mistake; that book is so dated and not at all relevant to our lives. Meaningless drivel. We put down the novel on the table frustrated and decide to take a long walk in the park by our apartment to reflect on something. But there is nothing to ponder about except our angst.

As we walk back to our apartment dejected, we are stopped by a traffic light. The red light stares at us. It tells us to stop. We know this because we are taught by our kindergarten teachers this. But our mind wanders about. Since when have we said that the red light means to stop? It is, after all, a color. Colors by themselves don’t have any meaning. Until we add meaning to them. And this makes us examine the green light that is blinking right now. We should have crossed the street; everyone is rushing back home and we are just standing there in the middle of the pathway. But here we are, analyzing the green light on this traffic light.

Why in the world have we associated with the word, “Go”? We think back to our past and remember everyone telling us that it is time to cross the street if it is the green light. It is like we are conditioned to understand when to walk and when to stop. And that is weird because the green light is just a colored light. Nothing in it explicitly says to cross the street. And yet, whenever we see that green light, we are assured that the road is safe to cross. And we look both left and right and agree: the cars have stopped and other people are crossing the street without getting hurt. The green light is a simple sign that somehow evokes a sense of relief without us realizing it. But why do we not associate the green light with, say, poison? There has to be something more. We start losing ourselves in thoughts and we think that most people will find our thoughts simple and juvenile; that they reveal nothing. But to us, it reveals everything.

Because we forget we are in a system of signs.

We are conditioned to see signs in a certain way, even though signs have no set meaning. That is unnatural. In reality, we shape signs in the mold of ourselves. We see that green light as a sign that tells us something meaningful and we are now analyzing the process of how sign gets meaning. And meaning is shaped by us, whether we are aware of it or not. The green light in the traffic light doesn’t mean poison not just because we are not conditioned to think that way but because we say so.

We run back to the apartment and reread The Great Gatsby. We are happy with the high school teachers’ explanation that the green light in Great Gatsby represents the American Dream and don’t go beyond that. But F. Scott Fitzgerald definitely means more than that. We think back to that green light in the traffic sign and reread the book again. Then, we come up with the interpretation that Gatsby isn’t just looking for the American Dream but a sense of relief, a stasis, a center. Gatsby is a conflicted man, pretending to be who he isn’t — and he may have seen that green light as a symbol of solace that someday he will not only get repaid but feel at ease. He is a lonely man, despite having the most extravagant parties in the neighborhood. His desire to be with Wendy becomes unbearable and this is why the green light is becoming an ironic, scathing remark on the titular character. It says, “That solace you seek is far away. You won’t reach it, but we will dangle it in front of you.” Could our green light interpretation in The Great Gatsby reflect us and how we think? Yes, of course. The green light is a sign and our interpretation and pursuit for its meaning are indicative of our own selves.

And we start laughing to ourselves. All the books, the people, the philosophy we encounter — it’s not that we like or dislike them, find them objectively effective or not. But the way we analyze them, read them, interpret them reflects us the most. More than the books, the people, and the philosophy.

How stupid, we cry out, how stupid we’ve always been. The whole answer is there in front of us, just waiting to be shaped by our own hands but we don’t see it. We keep seeing the glass half-empty because we are stupid. No wonder people tell us we are still angsty teenagers. It’s because we are all stupid.

Our minds are connecting the dots that seem not at all related to what we are thinking. And we remember our outburst with our acquaintance who plays Madden. We examine our words and his speech. We examine what we wanted and why we felt betrayed by our expectations. We examine what he did and the reason why.

And it turned out that we were assholes, yes, we were assholes. He really meant it when he told us a long time ago that he considered us his friend. That we should at some point play Madden with him despite all the differences. That he did (and does) care for our well-being. We just thought he was sarcastic or he said it out of common courtesy.

How stupid are we? Are we this stupid to not understand the signs, the social cues? We guess so because we feel bad. Really bad.

After some tissue papers, we take our phone from our pocket. We want to talk to him. We want to apologize. And when he comes up and says, “Hey, what’s up,” like nothing has ever happened, we choke up. There is a moment of silence. And then:

“You, you want to play some Madden?”

“… Yeah, sure. When?”

He probably doesn’t know it, but those three words — a sign — makes us want to bawl. He may have meant it as a neutral thing just to play it cool, but the way we have read those three words feel like we are getting strangled. So we let out a half-hearted “tonight” as our throats clog up.

This exchange means a lot to us and possibly him. We are the worst communicators of our own feelings and he understands that we are trying our best. How does the “tonight” sound to him? We don’t know and we will possibly never understand it, even if we asked. But there is something about the way we say “tonight” that tells both recipient and speaker that everything is all sorted out. And he responds, “Got it. Let me set it up.”

Our hearts want to explode and we want to break down crying and thanking God. We crave to have that feeling again. That feeling that someone is listening to us. That feeling that even in a world where we can’t communicate fully, something is coming through.

That feeling that tells us we are human.

Crossing the Road When the Lights Go Green

6 thoughts on “Crossing the Road When the Lights Go Green

  1. dVX says:

    I recall one of On Kawara’s series, in which he sent to different people over the years telegrams that bore only the message “I am still alive.” Even today, after his death in 2014, a twitter bot is repeating that sole message:

    I may be crazy, dunno, but it was my first thought after reading this post.


  2. Cjug says:

    If by chance you read “On Cross Channel” by George Henry Shaft, how do you feel about his conclusion that Cross Channel is a deeply Christian work?


    1. Well, I personally think his interpretation is bonkers and has as much sense as those Biblical conspiracy theories that says the world will end tomorrow or last year because of numbers. There is just one thing that George Henry Shaft has going on and it’s archetypes.

      Oscar Wilde has said that “in every first novel the hero is the author as Christ or Faust” and that is of course true of Dorian Gray, of CROSS+CHANNEL (even if it’s not Romeo’s first work), of most works. Christ character archetypes are reflective of our desire to see salvation in characters and our belief that sacrifice for the many is glorious and selfless. That’s as much as we can say if CROSS+CHANNEL is a Christian work.

      I am sure one can read CROSS+CHANNEL as a Christian work if we read it in some Christian critical lens. I wouldn’t mind it if it’s some work with obvious Biblical references (Moby Dick is a famous example) but I doubt very heavily that C+C has references like that. The Christian critical lens also treats everything as an allegory or parody of Christ or some story in the Bible and that is usually very limiting. I’m not a supporter of anything that limits interpretations. This is ironic since CROSS+CHANNEL is about interpretations in the context of communication.

      Christian themes are in many ways universal too. You don’t have to be particularly religious to find The Ten Commandments powerful too or find Christ admirable for his actions. Kindness is universal. Are we going to now say Shumon’s Asairo is a Christian work because it discusses the “Christian” theme of kindness?

      I’m not discounting Christian philosophy (St. Augustine’s Confessions has influenced the writing of the ladder post and Umberto Eco’s Name of the Rose is actually the inspiration for this post); I just don’t believe a work has to be “fully Christian”. We also have to realize that Romeo has written other works like Jintai, which is why I bring it into the picture. There is a “Romeoverse”: the more you read Romeo’s works, the more you realize his consistent philosophy, the more you get the bigger picture.

      George Henry Shaft’s interpretation does not take that into account. It is shallow not just because of that but it advocates a view that is severely limiting. Critical readings are all about understanding a work deeper than usual. To do that, we have to read and reflect on the work through different ideas. I’m thinking about other works that can be read in a Christian critical lens too. Why focus on one thing and say those works are “deeply Christian” as if that’s all there is to it? How do non-Christians read “deeply Christian works” without being alienated? There is definitely a reason or two why many of us are enchanted by it when we are not Christians.

      And that reason is the key to understanding a work better.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. anon says:

    Someday I’ll have to read Cross Channel in the original language in case I’ve missed something profound. I don’t agree with calling up the Madden friend again. I have remorselessly cut off a few Mdaden friends, reasoning that life is too short to hang out with fake friends who deep down don’t care about you, or sharing your interests.

    Activity friends are a dime a dozen, and you expect more depth from people once you’ve spent time with them. It’s natural for our expectations to grow over time, as we spend time with people and they’re no longer just an acquaintance. You expect emotional solidarity. When we are let down – when it’s revealed that a person sees you as only a tool to masturbate by for a few hours – it can hurt so much that its wiser to dissolve the partnership than to set yourself up for more disappointment. Pets and kids don’t trouble us though, because we never form a gap of expectations.


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